Enroute to San Francisco, California - Prairie SeaShell Sea Stories
It is now September 21st and we have just pulled into Coos Bay, Oregon to wait out some more bad weather. We had expected that we would have been in SanFran by now, but alas, we are only about half way there. Don puts his time to good use, and does some checking and fine tuning on our AutoHelm system. We have been working “Otto” very hard these past few days, thru wind, waves, rain and swells and he hasn’t complained even once. Don says Otto can steer a straighter course than he can, so we put him to work almost all the time. He’s the only crew member that doesn’t get time off.
Coos Bay is a busy little place, during the day, the wharfs are crowded with people tending their crab traps. They drop the trap off the wharf, pull up a lawn chair, sit for a bit, pull in the trap, empty it and start again. It looks like most of the time they empty the whole thing back into the water as the crabs must be a certain size to be kept, and they can only keep the males.
I found it easier to buy my dinner off the fishing boats, which we did several times here. The albacore tuna, baked in the oven, in a little Diana sauce, was absolutely delicious. Even Don, who doesn’t like tuna, is starting to think that he may have to learn how to fish. The sea lions here in the bay don’t have to worry about fishing though. They are well fed as they wait at the bottom of the wharf while the fishermen are cleaning their catch of the day.
We went for a hike up to the Coast Guard Look Out station. Was certainly glad we pulled in here when we did, because not only was the Red Warning Flag still flying furiously, but one of the fishermen we spoke to said his son was out on a 125 foat boat, and the waves were breaking over its bow. I can only imagine what that would have done to Prairie SeaShell and her crew.
Spent another day here, took a taxi into the town of Coos Bay. The history of the area is explained as you walk along the boardwalk, and we discovered that the company where we got the lumber for the hull of the boat, was one of the founding companies in the area and is still thriving today. Prairie SeaShell has come back from whence she came … but just for a visit, we raised sail again the following day.
There really wasn’t any wind, but it was shaping up to be a beautiful sunny day. We saw some sea lions, passed the pyramid rocks near Cape Blanco, then after lunch we saw our first whale sighting. We saw the fin on his back surface several times, we saw the water spray from his blowhole, then he changed course and went behind us. As he dove, we saw his whole tail with white tips on both sides of the flukes. Sure glad he decided to charge course, because he was getting really close, maybe 200 - 300 yards away. By 7 P.M. this evening, we had logged a total of 1,000 nautical miles on Prairie SeaShell, and at 11:30 P.M. we finally crossed the border into California.
The following day turned out to be a “Whale of a Day”. We saw more whales today than we did boats. Most of the time, they were a fair distance away, but again, one time, they were 200 - 300 yards away. This time, there was a least three of them at one time, but of course, the minute I reach for the camera, they were gone. Guess they must be camera shy!
We motored again all day, very calm and no swells until evening when we were passing over the Cape Mendocino escarpment. The water depth changes from about 3,000 ft to 1400 feet, bringing cold water to the surface and causing very confused swells. Took an hour or two to pass this area, but then things settled down and I actually was able to sleep. I have not had much success sleeping under way, so I guess I finally got so tired that the motion couldn’t keep me awake. Since we have been doing so much motoring, we will have to head for Fort Bragg for fuel, hopefully sometime in the early morning.
Noyo River entrance
We were approaching the mouth of the Noyo River around 6 am, still a little dark, but no fog, so it was looking good to enter the harbour. However by the time we arrived, the fog had rolled in and we could only see a couple of hundred yards from the boat and the entrance is very narrow with jetties on both sides.
Anders was at the helm, Don and I keeping watch on either side, then came the fuel dock, a dilapidated old wharf in only about 6 feet of water. Don took the dock line and said he thought the dock was going to collapse under his weight. The diesel hose had to be dragged down from a wharf way above our heads. We managed to fill up both tanks and our bonus was a free Ft. Bragg cap and a Pilot Chart Book. We left the channel, motoring again with wind on our nose, it was another bumpy ride until evening when the wind died.
We changed watch at midnight as usual, the sky was black, no moon or stars. At 2:30 we were awakened by a loud bang and the aft cabin began to fill with smoke. I scrambled to open the windows and hatch, then ran out to the cockpit. Elizabeth brought me a blanket, and I sat for a moment to collect myself.
Fortunately the sea was totally flat and it took Don only a few minutes to discover what the problem was. The connection between the exhaust and the raw water mixer had come unscrewed and it was an easy fix. However, while he was down there he noticed that the water pump, the one that cools the engine, was hanging by it’s belts. Apparently the mount had broken, and it was amazing that the pump kept working. Don held the hose in place, and they fashioned a harness out of clothesline and we were able to motor into Bodega Bay for repairs. And we thought Ft Bragg was going to be our last stop before San Francisco!
We pulled in just at daybreak, and once again it was like Deerfoot Trail at rush hour. The Pilot book tells us that Spud Point Marina in Bodega Bay is an excellent stop for repairs, that all services are available. Well, not quite so! There is no welder at the marina, his shop is in town, about 5 miles away.
Don and Anders head off on bicycles with the broken mount in hand, only to find out that the welder is out of town on a job and no one knows when he will return. What next ? They stopped at the tourist information booth and were fortunate enough to find a lady there who really takes her job seriously. When Don explained the problem, she went through the phone book for any kind of shops that might have a welder, and was able to track down the owner of a mobile welding service at his home.
He radioed one of his trucks and sent it right over to the marina. Not only was their service great, but their price was better than anyone else she had been able to find. She had said however, that if she couldn’t find a welder, she would take them to her house as she had a welder there and she would weld the piece for them. Talk about dedication!
With repairs completed, laundry done, showers and supper over, we turned in for a few hours sleep. We had all been up most of the night and were very tired. We wanted to leave again around midnight so as to arrive at the Golden Gate in daylight. We were on our way out of Bodega Bay in the wee hours of the morning, fog wasn’t too bad, but it is still very dark, no moon at all.
The channel is very narrow and zigzags a little. Don was at the helm, Anders on deck and Elizabeth navigating via the computer screen. I was just overseeing at this point, I’d done my job, turning the boat around by hand and casting off. It’s hard to believe I can turn a 20,000lb boat around with one hand.
Once again, we made a left turn towards San Francisco. About 2 hours away from the bridge, lots and lots of boats start appearing on the radar, and hundreds of little black and white birds that look like penguins with long necks. When the boat approaches them, they don’t fly away, they dive, almost cartoon style, one at a time, pop ! pop! pop!
Golden Gate Bridge
We caught our first glimpse of the bridge, in the fog, and had to wait our turn to pass under as there was a big container ship leaving. We finally passed under the bridge at 11:38 am, eighteen days after leaving Sidney, BC.
Golden Gate bridge
Golden Gate Bridge
The first leg of our voyage is finally complete, we motored across the bay, past Alcatraz and Angel Island and are presently at a very nice marina in Alameda, California where we will stay for a week or so to rest up for our next adventure.
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